If you’ve ever wondered how to become a Hollywood filmmaker, you start by making a short film that’s gets picked up by a few prestigious film festivals and wins a few awards along the way. Then a few people with money in Hollywood take notice and offer you some of the green stuff for you to turn your short film into something feature length. Remember Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle (LA LA LAND)? His 2013 Sundance Short Film Jury Prize Winner, WHIPLASH, was turned into the 2014 feature film of the same name and the rest, as they say, is history. Brothers Jonathan & Josh Baker are following a similar path. Although their 2014 short film, BAG MAN, didn’t take home any festival awards, it did catch the attention of actor Michael B. Jordan (BLACK PANTHER; CREED) who agreed to be the film’s executive producer, which usually means big bucks are kicked in. (The short, by the way, is available for viewing on YouTube.)
In KIN, Eli (Myles Truitt) is a likeable kid but the young teen seems to land in trouble on a regular basis. As the film opens, he gets suspended from school for getting into yet another fight with a classmate, which doesn’t go down well with his adoptive dad, Hal (Dennis Quaid), who has more than enough on his plate to deal with. Hal is a construction contractor in Detroit, a city that looks almost post-apocalyptic in the film with all the empty lots, dilapidated houses and abandoned factory buildings that can be seen. He’s been a widower for a few years, it seems, raising Eli on his own and using a strong dose of tough love to try to keep the kid from ending up in jail just as his birth son, Jimmy (Jack Reynor, SING STREET, and looking like a poor man’s Chris Pratt) has done. To add to Hal’s problems that day, Jimmy has just been released and is on his way home after six years in the pen.
Eli likes scrounging around those aforementioned abandoned factory buildings for scrap metal, which he sells to a recycler for pocket change. On one of his forays, he stumbles across a rectangular metal object that opens up into a super high-tech ray gun when he touches it. The gun is clearly not of this world so Eli takes it home and hides it away. Jimmy, meanwhile, comes home and quickly pays a call to Taylor (James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST; WHY HIM?; THE INTERVIEW), a local thug whose gang, we learn, protected Jimmy while he was in jail. Taylor now wants payback, which Jimmy doesn’t have, but Hal does in his office safe. Not surprisingly, Jimmy’s attempt to rob the safe goes pear-shaped and he quickly hits the road and heads west taking Eli with him. What Jimmy doesn’t know is that Eli has taken the gun with him and what the two of them don’t know is that not just Taylor is hot on their heels. A pair of aliens is also chasing them across the country with the intention of getting their gun back.
KIN is a great example of bigger not being better. When the Brothers Baker transformed their short film into a feature, they gave Eli an elaborate backstory and added in a few new characters like Milly (Zoë Kravitz, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM), the stripper with a heart that the boys meet on their travels. Unfortunately, they neglected to give us anything to hold our attention and encourage us to come back for more. It seems they got lost in the woods and created a film that can decide what it wants to be. Is it a family drama? Is it a road trip story? Or is it a sci-fi adventure? They needed to pick one and stick with it. My feeling is that the film could have succeeded if they had cut the set up in half and spent the rest of the film dealing with Eli, the gun and his interaction with the aliens, which comes in the last five of the film and takes the story on such a sharp turn that it’s downright laughable. In their short film, so many questions are unanswered (like where did Eli get the gun for starters) but the story leaves us wanting to know more and wanting to follow him on his journey wherever that goes. In KIN, too much is answered and a lot is just script padding.
KIN is hugely disappointing and it doesn’t bode well for the Baker brothers’ directing careers taking off anytime soon.
Listen to the review recorded in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, September 13th at 8:30 am HK time!
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